Weirdly hilarious article by Nellie Bowles in the Times about consultants who advise corporate clients on how to make the workplace more spiritual.
In the beginning there was Covid-19, and the tribe of the white collars rent their garments, for their workdays were a formless void, and all their rituals were gone. New routines came to replace the old, but the routines were scattered, and there was chaos around how best to exit a Zoom, onboard an intern, end a workweek.
The adrift may yet find purpose, for a new corporate clergy has arisen to formalize the remote work life. They go by different names: ritual consultants, sacred designers, soul-centered advertisers. They have degrees from divinity schools. Their business is borrowing from religious tradition to bring spiritual richness to corporate America.
In simpler times, divinity schools sent their graduates out to lead congregations or conduct academic research. Now there is a more office-bound calling: the spiritual consultant. Those who have chosen this path have founded agencies — some for-profit, some not — with similar-sounding names: Sacred Design Lab, Ritual Design Lab, Ritualist. They blend the obscure language of the sacred with the also obscure language of management consulting to provide clients with a range of spiritually inflected services, from architecture to employee training to ritual design.
Their larger goal is to soften cruel capitalism, making space for the soul, and to encourage employees to ask if what they are doing is good in a higher sense. Having watched social justice get readily absorbed into corporate culture, they want to see if more American businesses are ready for faith.
This was my favorite part:
Evan Sharp, the co-founder of Pinterest, hired Sacred Design Lab to categorize all major religious practices and think of ways to apply them to the office. They made him a spreadsheet.
“We pulled together hundreds of practices from all these different religions and cultural practices and put them in a spreadsheet and just tried to categorize them by emotional state: which ones are relevant when you’re happy, which are relevant when you’re angry, and a couple other pieces of metadata,” Mr. Sharp said.
When he had the data, he said, he took a few days and read it all. “This sounds embarrassingly basic,” he said, “but it really reframed parts of religion for me.”
Just imagine this nerdy atheist CEO saying, "I need to get a better handle on this religion thing – can somebody make me a spreadsheet?" Sure, boss.
My serious response is that this is a sad result of the withering of all other forms of community. If your co-workers are the only group of people you associate with, then the only way you can have any sort of shared spiritual experience is with your co-workers. If I didn't play basketball I would regularly go for months during which the only time I was together with a group of other adults would be at work.
The second part of my serious response is that this is doomed to fail, because for me at least the competitive world of corporations is just profoundly unspiritual. Everything I can think of that might make my work more meaningful would cost money and take time and therefore make my group uncompetitive, and it's hard to feel spiritual about losing your job to someone who cuts more corners. One of my corporate employers went a kick for a while about "mindfulness," which I found bizarre, because for me the essence of mindfulness is in taking the time to do things in a satisfying way. For me that would mean more thorough research, more careful analysis, more collaborative work with other smart people, more time spent mentoring new people and generally sharing knowledge with others, and so on, and it would also mean passing on projects that didn't connect to my personal intellectual interests. All of which would mean a straight march to the unemployment line.